Thursday, September 27, 2012

Are You an Old Testament, or a New Testament?

I assure you, I am still sane. The backstory to the question:

Years ago, I had a friend, Rayna, who once remarked that a mutual friend was handling an argument in an “Old Testament” fashion. I wasn’t raised in a religious family, so it’s not familiar to me to characterize the world in religious terms. However, the bicameral Bible—the two gods in one text—was culturally common, so Rayna’s metaphor struck me as useful.

Looking at Western situations through these responses—are they OT, or NT?—has given me a way to look at motivations and positions in a more culturally holistic way.

This division of approaches explains much about American character and decision making. It’s how we can wage war on a country, then rebuild it, and do both without feeling ashamed. It’s why we find ourselves divided over things like immigration: OT says battle to strengthen the borders, NT says to accept all in the universal brotherhood of man.

It’s also why we can be deeply divided in our responses to OT cultures elsewhere, specifically Islam. The OT types in American culture seek to gird the country in case of attack, not because they don’t understand Islam, but because they do. The traditions come from the same core text, so the mutual understanding and thus conflict is inevitable.

The NT as a revisionist text is out of place in the conflict between OT types. The message of peace and inclusion comes with conditions—acceptance of Jesus’ divinity—that are intolerable. (Some of us who aren’t religious also find it intolerable.) However, that very notion of inclusion made later developments like democracy possible (cf Max Weber et al). Democracy, capitalism, and personal rights developed mutually. It’s no mistake that once capitalism moves into a culture, that culture suffers—not because it is being harmed, but because it is being opened.

I would argue that, as difficult and treacherous as war is, it is still necessary so long as the OT types are around. The nature of the OTs makes it possible for the NTs not to be overrun. The NTs ensure that the OTs help rebuild what they destroy. The peculiar bicameral mindset of the West gets blamed for this social ill or that complicating factor, but like conjoined twins, each depends on the other.

Many argue against religion as a necessary part of civilization, but I disagree. All the pillars of civilization work together to keep us from running through the streets killing each other, and even at that, the job’s not done. Removing one of those pillars will harm civilization, not help it.

OT? NT? Both are crucial for the longevity of Western civilization and values.

1 comment:

Dan said...

You're not the first to make a pragmatic argument for religion as a way of holding society together, but it'll take more than arguments like that to get me to believe. I'm not the sort to accept superstitious nonsense without any logical evidence just because believing in that junk will supposedly make people behave better.

And that CAPTCHA is incredibly annoying... it takes many tries to manage to get something the system accepts.